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Vocational Education and Training in Schools (VETiS) is recognised in all Australian states’ and territories’ education systems in the senior secondary certificates of education. The federal government has researched the benefits of VETiS and promoted it as a subject area of worth through both policy and funding. System leadership in schools have also included VETiS in their strategic direction by establishing and resourcing Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) to manage the compliance issues associated with the national Vocational Education and Training (VET) system. VETiS is offered in the majority of schools in New South Wales (NSW), including Catholic Schools; however, there are varying levels of implementation within schools along with wide differences in student participation across schools.

With government and school leadership placing emphasis on the importance of VETiS as part of the curriculum, it is important to find out why some schools offer less VETiS than others, and why some schools have greater student take-up of VETiS than is found at other schools. Is this a result of limitations imposed by systems and situations which are difficult for schools to change, or is it caused by misunderstanding, misconceptions, or even ignorance, which—if left unchallenged— could have a detrimental impact on students’ academic choices, achievements, and ultimately, their career options?

The reasons behind the variation between schools in implementation and participation in VETiS were the focus of this research. The research, situated in rural New South Wales, reports the experiences of four systemic Catholic schools and their students when making decisions in relation to Higher School Certificate (HSC) subjects. The perspectives of the students, parents, teachers and leadership were sought in order to unpack potential reasons for variation among schools and to identify any contributing issues that may impact on VETiS as a subject area of choice.

The research utilised case study methodology, employing the epistemological approach of constructionism which is premised on the understanding that meaning is constructed rather than discovered. Constructionism focuses on the assumption that knowledge and meaning as constructed by the participants forms the basis for making judgements and decisions. The issues of subject implementation and subject choice provided the framework for the suite of data collection instruments, using a mix of qualitative and quantitative approaches in a multisite case study.

The research identified a number of major characteristics and factors that were found to affect the rate of participation and implementation of VETiS in specific schools. It was found that the combination of specific factors—including the characteristics of students, subject advice, school staff, subject decision processes, school leadership, school vision, school reputation and school culture—impacted on the number of courses implemented in schools and the participation rates of students.

The most significant overriding contribution to decision-making both by school leadership and students about VETiS was found to be the school culture, which is established and maintained by school leadership with the principal at the top. Most other issues—curriculum choice, information dissemination, staff attitudes and commitment, and parity of subjects—were found to be a consequence of the school culture and leadership beliefs. In schools where the leadership was responsive to policy and equity issues, the school processes were found to enhance the quality of information provided to students about these subjects—and foster real choice. While the study focused on Catholic schools, the results give valuable insight into the VETiS experience which can be applied to the Australian educational sector more generally.

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Open Access


379 pages

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Faculty of Education and Arts

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
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